Our traditional local shopping centres are changing.
Many small retailers face rising business rates and rents, while high parking charges, poor infrastructure and the loss of vital banking services have added to their woes.
At the same time a number of well-known chains and department stores have closed swathes of high street stores, with more than 50,000 retail jobs going or gone from big stores this year alone.
The local retail scene is undergoing significant changes and none of us can ignore the effects.
Small shops are in the thick of this. There are twice as many independent high street businesses as chain stores. They are vital to the health of our town centres. And while there are thousands of small businesses still literally setting up shop – on our high streets and online – across the UK, many others are finding it difficult, some too difficult, to stay in business.
In Scarborough, Amelia’s Chocolate has become a thriving independent business – but, says its owner, suffers from lack of support.
Amelia Forrest is officially opening her new shop in the old Scarborough Evening News office on Aberdeen Walk on Saturday.
But she says: “It’s hard. Business rates and rent are our highest expenses at the moment. We don’t know how much we’re going to pay yet for our business rates but I think it’s going to be about Â£1,000 a month and it’s a massive amount.”
There is no quick fix – and longer term we need to reimagine and repurpose our local shopping areas so they can be less than about just shopping and more a place for leisure and experience and community.
But today we – along with sister newspapers across Johnston Press – launch our Love Your High Street campaign with the aim of focusing more attention on what can be done now to support our small shops and businesses.
And we can all play a part.
Everyone enjoys the convenience of using the internet to meet their shopping needs. But, as consumer spend starts rising in the run-up to Christmas, we are encouraging all readers to make a conscious decision to also shop locally and spend some time and money with the shops, small businesses and independent traders who ensure our communities remain vibrant places to live.
Janet Jefferson, President of Scarborough Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said: “There’s lots of specialist independent traders within our town. People come specially from all over the country to visit these shops and I think that local people should follow suit and help the local traders and our local economy.”
Scarborough and Whitby MP Robert Goodwill said: “One of the great benefits of the high street is that you can have businesses like Amelia’s Chocolate which are unique. There’s no other Amelia’s Chocolate anywhere in the country. You can come here and buy something you can’t buy anywhere else.”
Between now and the end of the year we will be helping to spread the word by supporting the local initiatives and great independent retailers we have on our patches in a series of regular features.